I’ve recently had the opportunity to do leadership training for 40 execs and managers for one of LA’s success story tech companies. This is a fairly in-depth, multi-month, multi-session program with multiple cohorts. As an executive coach and trainer, especially for a big, meaty initiative like this, it’s like walking into an Organizational Development candyland when it comes time to design the curriculum and content. There is so much amazing stuff out there about EQ, Feedback, Communication, Goals, Culture. Picking the exact stuff that’s exactly right for this client, and then delivering it in a way that is on point for them is an incredible honor. It’s complex and expansive and energizing.
To contrast that complexity, one of the participants shared the picture above in our Slack channel. She wrote the word “Pause” on her wrist using a Sharpie to remind herself to take a second before reacting, and it’s been very meaningful for her.
Such a simple and elegant way to synthesize the impact of a lot of training.
So I decided to put myself through a mental exercise (which I’m prone to do). If I had to distill all these months of design and training into a handful of essential leadership nuggets, what would they be? If I only had 30 minutes to deliver the message, what would make the cut? If I stripped away all the research and models and frameworks, what’s the most down to earth way I could deliver that message?
This is what I came up with. Pause before you react, be in control of your emotions and learn how to communicate.
#1 — Take the Pause: Doing nothing might be the most powerful thing you can do. If you are upset, defensive, exhausted, deflated, take a pause before you take action. Don’t hit send. Put your phone down, and walk away.
How To Do That:
· Actually don’t hit send and actually put your phone down and walk away. Even if it’s just for 1 minute. Ideally, leave it for 24 hours if you can. If it’s urgent, and you can’t delay, 1 minute is better than 0 minutes.
· Go walk around the block, meditate, have a snack, pet a dog, write in a journal. Do whatever it is that brings you back into balance and grounds you.
· If you only have a couple of minutes, do the 4 breath technique. Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
· Extra credit: Write the word “Pause” on your wrist using a Sharpie, and then look at your wrist a lot :).
#2 — Be the boss of your emotions, not the other way around: Figure out what sets you off — what makes you withdraw or yell or get passive aggressive? We all have our thing, and we do it repeatedly. What is it? What triggers it? What do you do when you get triggered? Once you know, be aware of it and be at choice about it instead of letting it control you.
How To Do That:
· Simply make it a point to pay attention. Intent to be aware is powerful.
· Pay attention to your body — triggers almost always have a signature warning sign in your body which can be your early warning detection system. Are you noticing your body heating up (literally)? Is your throat constricting? Are your shoulders tensing up? Is your stomach in knots? Your body will provide you with a cue.
· Read Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
· No, there is no magic pill for this. Realization and awareness is the first step, not the conclusion. Awareness provides you with an opportunity to make a choice about your reaction. Rinse, repeat.
· Extra credit: Write the words “Self-Awareness” on your wrist to keep you cued in to tension in your body or heightened emotional reactions.
#3 — Learn how to have hard conversations: Walking into what you know will be a tough conversation without preparing is like going on a black diamond run the first time you strap on a snowboard. Closing your eyes and hoping for the best is not the way to go. Preparation is. Get extremely clear on your intention. What is the result you want from this conversation? (Note: if it’s “to win” or “to prove that you’re right”, try again). Make sure you are grounded before you open your mouth. If you’re not, reschedule the talk. Make sure the other person is in the right headspace too. If they’re not, reschedule the talk. Express what is important to you, and find out what is important to the other person. Where do you have a shared purpose? You might have to work together to find it. If you can align there, solutions will flow.
Here’s an example: You’d rather test in production if it means releasing on time. You know your customers are waiting for some big features to be released, and if it means they have to deal with a few glitches, so be it. The other person would rather delay a release for months instead of putting out a buggy product. She thinks the customers will lose faith in the product unless it’s perfect. With discussion, you realize what’s important to you both is a common purpose of making your customers happy. Align and solve from there.
How To Do That:
· There are playbooks out there, and neuroscience to show you what happens in the brain during a hard conversation so you’re not flying blind. Read Crucial Conversations for a play by play.
· Write down your intention. In fact, write the whole conversation down. Script it out. Practice it with a buddy. In real life, it will likely deviate because you can’t predict what the other person will do or say. But practice will crystalize what is truly important to you in the matter and your practice buddy can give you valuable feedback about how the things you say land on them.
· If you feel the conversation going off the rails, do one of two things. 1. Remind yourself what your intention is — use it as a lighthouse to keep you from crashing on the rocks. 2. Decide if it’s better to reschedule the rest of the talk to a later time once you’re both grounded again. (Note: Crucial Conversations provides pointers on recreating a sense of safety to get the conversation back on track.)
· Extra credit: Write the words “Prepare” on your wrist to remind you to be deliberate about all phases of a pending difficult conversation.
Pause before you react, be in control of your emotions and learn how to communicate.
These seem like simple directives. And in some ways, they are. But mastery takes discipline, grit and lots of practice. Assume you’ll take 2 steps forward and 1 step back. It can be exhausting and frankly can seem really unfair at times. You may get a little irritated that you’re the one taking the high road all the time. You’ll miss out on the short term rush of saying “I won!” or “I’m right!” But once you experience the impact of results that are aligned with your true intention, it’s impossible to go back. Warrior on!
Disclaimer: I’m not sure Sharpies are good for the skin…